World Premiere: Scientists successfully transplanted the human liver treated in a machine

The patient is doing well now.


A multidisciplinary Zurich research team has done something that has never been achieved before. The research team Liver4Life has successfully treated an initially damaged human liver in a machine for three days outside of the body and then implanted the recovered organ into a cancer patient.

In 2020, scientists from the University Hospital Zurich, ETH Zurich, Wyss Zurich, and the University of Zurich developed a machine that repairs injured human livers and keeps them alive outside the body for one week. The machine mimics the human body as accurately as possible. It provides ideal conditions for human livers.

Now, scientists use the machine to treat an initially damaged human liver. After three days, scientists transplanted the liver into a cancer patient. One year later, the patient is doing well.

Scientists prepared the liver in the machine with several drugs. In this way, it was feasible to turn it into a suitable human organ, even though the liver was originally rejected for transplantation due to its poor quality. Antibiotic or hormonal therapy and the optimization of liver metabolism are possible thanks to multi-day perfusion, which involves the mechanical circulation of the organ. Longer laboratory or tissue testing can also be completed without being rushed. Under normal conditions, this is not practicable because organs can only be preserved on ice and in commercially accessible perfusion devices for 12 hours.

The doctors gave a cancer patient on the Swiss transplant waiting list the option of using the cured human liver as part of an approved individual treatment attempt. The organ was transplanted in May 2021 after he gave his approval. After a few days in the hospital, the patient was able to go and is currently doing well.

during the transplantation of the liver
Prof. Pierre-Alain Clavien and Prof. Philipp Dutkowski during the transplantation of the liver treated in the machine. (Image: USZ)

Pierre-Alain Clavien, director of the Department of Visceral Surgery and Transplantation at the University Hospital Zurich (USZ), said, “Our therapy shows that by treating livers in the perfusion machine, it is possible to alleviate the lack of functioning human organs and save lives.”

Mark Tibbitt, professor of macromolecular engineering at ETH Zurich, adds“The interdisciplinary approach to solving complex biomedical challenges embodied in this project is the future of medicine. This will allow us to use new findings even more quickly for treating patients.”

Scientists are further planning to review the procedure on other patients and to demonstrate its efficacy and safety in the form of a multicenter study.

Journal Reference:

  1. Clavien PA, Dutkowski P, et al. Transplantation of a human liver following three days of ex-situ normothermic preservation. Nature Biotechnology, 2022. DOI: 10.1038/s41587-022-01354-7
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